Computers and Dementia

Recently I was asked about the benefits of making computers available to residents in a dementia unit. My own experience has been in using iPad apps with residents and I expressed some reservation that residents with less range of motion and difficulties with spatial perception would be successful with a keyboard and mouse. I ended up answering the original question with an endorsement of iPads, but the question has stayed with me. Are there apps for computers that can engage residents and that they can use successfully?

I sat down at my notebook with Windows 8 and a touch screen, did some searching and found many Windows 8 apps that looked interesting. I downloaded dozens of them, narrowed the list down to a group that I thought seemed to be the best and put them to the test. I presented the apps to dementia residents, refined my selections somewhat and came up with a final list of Win 8/10 apps, which we have posted in our Learning Center.

In the meantime, here are some more ideas on how to use computers to help people with dementia:

Skype

My first thought was Skype. Unlike talking on the telephone Skype allows the resident to see the person they are talking to which can help them be more aware of who it is, and allows them to take visual cues from facial expressions which can help them follow the conversation. Once the call has been made, Skype does not require any mouse or keyboard interaction and is therefore easy to use. It’s a great way for friends and family of residents to stay in touch.

Dementia Clock

Another useful app that can be run on a computer is the “Dementia Clock”. This app displays the day of the week and the time of day in general terms – morning, afternoon, evening or night. This bit of information displayed clearly and consistently can provide great comfort and support to a person with dementia.

Dementia Clock

Click on the clock to download it for free. The image shown is smaller than the actual clock that will display on your screen.

Photo Album Screen Saver

Collect a bunch of photographs either from the unit or personal photos from residents (with permission, of course) or both and set them as a screen saver with a one or two minute time delay for each. The residents will enjoy watching the pictures scroll and have fun picking out ones that they recognize. This requires little if any supervision and can provide lots of fodder for conversation.

Google Streetview

If you’ve never used Google Streetview, you’re missing out. You can look up any address in Google Maps, then switch to streetview to explore the area with actual panoramic photographs. Not all areas are covered, but most are. You can use this with residents to look up addresses from their past including old homes, schools, etc. and see what they look like now. Great fun and leads to lots of stories and conversations.

To use it, go to maps.google.com and search for the address. If Street View is available for the area, you will see images under the address. Click on the image labeled Street View, then hold your mouse button down and scroll from side to side to pan the picture.

YouTube Videos

Another great way to use the computer (and waste a lot of time ) is to watch YouTube videos. If the resident likes animals, try some of the very humorous pet videos. If they like cars, you can find all kinds of videos on classics, fast or anything else. Same for all kinds of hobbies and interests. Just go to youtube.com and either search or just scroll through the popular selections.

General “Research”

How many times a day do you “google” something on the computer? If you’re like me, it’s a lot. You can do the same with residents. If a resident asks you something, or you are doing an activity and a question comes up, why not take the resident over to the computer and “google” it? Doing a Photo Match with birds and a question arises about the bird’s size – go to the computer and look it up. Click on “Images” and look at more pictures of the birds. A simple question can lead to a whole new activity at the computer.

You may also want to have a look at our complete list of Win 8/10 apps